New Delhi: Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s political ambitions to reemerge as the country’s leader, continues. Months after his Azadi march, to call for early elections, had to shut down in May due to violent clashes between the police and his supporters, he now signals his supporters to a ‘Haqeeqi Azadi March’, after October 9.
The Pakistan government is also ready, with Dawn news reporting that the Army would be deployed in Islamabad’s Red Zone to stop the entry of protestors, when and if the plans for this March comes to fruition. The Red Zone houses key Government, Judiciary and Legislature buildings, and also the official homes of the President and the PM.
Some years ago, Khan, the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), had in August of 2014 led a protest march demanding the resignation of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, again calling for fresh elections. Thousands hand joined in and that time, it had successfully crossed into the Red Zone with protesters even attempting to storm Sharif’s official residence, prompting the outbreak of violence, which left three dead and more than 595 people injured, including 115 police officers.
This year, after the no-confidence motion against Khan which saw his ouster in April, his supporters took to the streets, revealing that his backers were ready to come out in strength when needed. The youth, who make up the backbone of Khan’s supporters, dominated the crowds, said one report from Al Jazeera.
Khan had then tweeted “Never have such crowds come out so spontaneously and in such numbers in our history, rejecting the imported govt led by crooks” – the reference here of what Khan says was the United States’ conspiracy to topple his government.
Recent leaks of alleged conversations between Khan and his aides from when he was still the PM, the present government says reveal he formulated the US cypher conspiracy. Dawn news reported that the first audio clip leaked on September 28, has him telling one aide to “play up” the cipher and turn it into a foreign plot to oust his government.
Khan, however, reportedly did not think naming the country was needed. “We only have to play it up. We don’t have to name America. We only have to play with this, that this date [of the no-trust vote] was [decided] before”.
Now the Pakistan Cabinet has approved for an inquiry to be held into the audio leaks, with current PM, Shehbaz Sharif calling Khan “A thief who has been caught red-handed”. But Khan is not deterred. According to reports, he directed his party workers to ensure full participation of the people and advised them to consider “real freedom” as “jihad”.
An article titled ‘Why Imran Khan Isn’t Going Away’, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace speaks of his effort “to decry his opponents as illegitimate” and that him and his party workers “want to mobilize a popular movement into the streets and repeat, in many ways, what Khan did to Nawaz Sharif’s government before the last election with the army’s support.”
What’s also interesting is the fact that Khan has called out the Pakistan military, which many say he had a falling out with, eventually leading to his dismissal from the PM’s post. He took on the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), saying in a public rally in Faisalabad that Nawaz Sharif (former PM and brother of Shehbaz) and former president Asif Ali Zardari wanted to appoint their favourite as the next Army chief.
While the ISI is known to have a stronghold on the political charge of the country, this June, the country’s politicians and activists raised fears of the military increasing its control over the country’s public life. This came after Shehbaz Sharif, gave the ISI vetting power over civil service appointments.
Khan was also booked under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act for his comments at an Islamabad rally on August 20, where he used the stage to call on the military establishment whom he refers to as “neutrals”, to stand with the nation, instead of standing with “thieves”, referring to government leaders. Pakistan court granted him bail.
While the political play goes on, Khan’s support base has not dwindled, and his party has in the recent past seen great success in the Punjab province of Pakistan, winning 15 of the 20 seats contested. The province, importantly, is also the family stronghold of the Sharif’s.
Pakistan is however reeling after devastating floods hit the country, with the UN revising its humanitarian aid appeal for the country from $160 million to $816 million. The floods have left nearly 1,700 dead, displaced over 33 million, according to UNICEF, and caused a surge of water-borne diseases leaving millions vulnerable in areas where there is already a high rate of malnutrition. In this, the battle for supremacy continues. The elections in Pakistan are scheduled for 2023.